Knives and Other Sharp Objects, by Raúl Castillo, might itself benefit from some laceration—administered with an editor’s red pen. A member of the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group, Castillo has surfaced with a play as delightful as it is frustrating. Though demonstrating an ear for dialogue and an eye for sociological detail, he wastes his energies on two nonsensical subplots and occasionally sacrifices a character’s credibility for a good laugh line.
Knives begins on a bus juddering its way north from the border town of Mission, Texas. Fourteen-year-old Beatrice (Noemi Del Rio) jostles against her older sister, Alex (Joselin Reyes). As signs flash by, Beatrice repeats the words: “San Fernando, San Fernando, San Fernando,” she says. “Tamarindo, tamarindo, tamarindo.” She persists in the chant to annoy her sister and render the syllables meaningless—to help forget that each roadside sign takes her farther from home. The sisters’ father is dying of lung cancer, and he has sent them to stay with relatives in Austin. Castillo sets up a study in contrasts between the poor sisters and their rich relations: Alex and Beatrice little resemble their straight-haired, designer-clothed cousins Loren and Lucy. Castillo has rather too much fun at the cousins’ expense—sure, Loren’s an airhead, but would she really consider Hooters a modish boîte?
The family’s travails would seem sufficient material for a drama, but Castillo freights it with subplots involving a mysterious stranger (the excellent Michael Ray Escamilla), whom the sisters meet on a bus, and two National Guardsmen who court Loren. That leaves him little time to develop the relationships among the main characters. When the climax arrives—at the dinner table, of course—it feels unmotivated. Yet something about Castillo’s dialogue—the way the characters toggle between English and Spanish, the way they hide behind their chatter—transcends the cheap gibes and structural glitches. Though Alex may yell at her sister, “I’m sick of you talking!” I’m excited to hear what Castillo will say next.